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Into the Woods

a Musical
by James Lapine (book), Stephen Sondheim (songs)

COMPANY : Act 3 Productions [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Act 3 Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 5176

SHOWING : November 03, 2017 - November 18, 2017



One of Sondheim’s most popular works, "Into the Woods" takes everyone’s favorite storybook characters and brings them together for a timeless, yet relevant, piece... and a rare modern classic. The story follows a Baker and his wife, who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King’s Festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk. When the Baker and his wife learn that they cannot have a child because of a Witch’s curse, the two set off on a journey to break the curse. Everyone’s wish is granted, but the consequences of their actions return to haunt them later with disastrous results.

Director Michelle Davis
Director Johnna Barrett Mitchell
Steward Andrew Berardi
Lucinda Alisha Boley
Rapunzel’s Prince Scott Christopher
Rapunzel Hannah Marie Craton
The Witch Sophie Decker
Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf Stephen DeVillers
Cinderella’s Stepmother Susanna Farfsing
Giant Emma Greene
Jack Aaron Hancock
Little Red Ridinghood Summer McCusker
Granny Karen Rooker
The Baker’s Wife Lauren Rosenzweig
The Baker Michael Rostek
Cinderella Maggie Taylor
Cinderella’s Mother Lyn Taylor
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Into the Stratosphere
by playgoer
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Sondheim’s score for "Into the Woods" is full of intricate choral numbers for the ensemble. Under John-Michael d’Haviland’s musical direction, these are the vocal highlights of Act3’s production. Under the joint direction of Michelle Davis and Johnna Barrett Mitchell, comedy is the highlight of James Lapine’s book. The whole creates a delightful production that is entrancing audiences.

The structure of the show leads to a "happily ever after" ending for the first act, intertwining a number of well-known fairytales into the new tale of a baker and his wife. The second act turns darker, as a giantess enters the realm of the story and spreads death and destruction, leaving just a small band of survivors to carry on. Given the emphasis on comedy in this production, the first act fares better than the second.

The set design by Will Brooks and Morgan McCrary Brooks expands the playing space to the full width of the Act3 auditorium, making room for the nine-piece orchestra to the left side of the audience, high above the action. The back wall of the set is a series of bookshelves with slender vines growing across them. Three enormous, misshapen trees are spread across the playing space, with the middle one containing a large knothole through which spectral figures can be seen and heard (with Ben Sterling’s sound design adding an echo to produce a ghostly effect). Far left is a painted bookshelf that reveals itself in one scene to be a Murphy bed, which is used to great effect in that scene. Otherwise, the bookshelves are extraneous set dressing, only coming into play when the giantess’ footsteps cause reverberations that result in a few shelves falling and spilling books.

Choreography, presumably by the directors, is pretty basic, but works well for the larger numbers. The choreography seems artificial in smaller numbers, though, although it is well-executed, particularly by Summer McCusker and Lauren Rosenzweig as Little Red Riding Hood and the Baker’s Wife, respectively.

Mari Braswell’s costumes are generally good, but Cinderella’s well-fitting gowns have a tendency to look like thrift store prom dresses, while the other gowns seem rather shapeless, and there’s not an overall design sensibility that comes through. Wigs are only so-so, with the exception of Ms. McCusker’s blonde ringlets that bob along delightfully as she skips across the stage. Lynn Taylor’s hairstyle as Cinderella’s Mother is totally modern and consequently totally out of step with all other hairstyles. Mary Sorrel’s props fill the bill, with the prop animals (two cows and a hen) adding special bits of charm.

David Reingold’s lighting design is ambitious, with green lights illuminating the trees and red lights highlighting elements of danger. In the opening scenes, action takes place across a number of settings, and the lighting follows the action, illuminating one section of the stage or another, as appropriate. Later, as action moves across the stage, the sequential illumination of one section after another becomes clunky, simulating the effect of a spotlight, but not altogether successfully.

The directors have tailored the production to make the best use of actors’ talents. Hannah Marie Craton’s voice as Rapunzel is a bit shrill and unpleasant, and other characters’ reactions to it let us know it’s not only the audience that finds it that way. Ms. Rosenzweig and Sophie Decker (the Witch) throw in seeming ad libs that mesh beautifully with their characters, and that have been integrated into the action to highlight them, with one delightful, oft-repeated bit showing no one helping Ms. Rosenzweig up after she curtseys.

The show is filled with fine performances. Ms. Rosenzweig and Ms. Decker, in her half-mask as the ugly witch, spark each scene in the first act in which they appear. Ms. McCusker makes for a charming Little Red Ridinghood who also draws full attention when she’s onstage. Aaron Hancock is endearingly inept as Jack, and Reese Witherspoon look-alike Maggie Taylor enchants as Cinderella, really coming into her own in the more dramatic moments of the second act as her silken voice soars in song.

There are no horrible performances, although Stephen DeVillers (Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf) and Scott Christopher (Rapunzel’s Prince) are directed to play more broadly than I would prefer and Stephen Spainhour-Roth mugs outrageously with a flask and doesn’t project in the tiny role of Cinderella’s father (although his costume may be the best in the show).

Sound is problematic, with distracting crackles in the amplification and uneven sound levels among actors’ headsets. Particularly in the second act, when the dwindling cast size results in more solos than ensemble numbers, some vocal strain can be detected that might have been avoided if more balanced sound levels had been used. The orchestra generally sounds good, although some sickly reed sounds were in evidence late in the production I attended. Particularly in Ms. Rosenzweig’s songs, the accompaniment tended to lag a bit from the pace in which she started.

Act3 consistently puts on fine productions, and "Into the Woods" is no exception. There’s a lot of sparkle and verve in the performances, some excellent singing, and a lot of effort has been put into the technical elements. Expect multiple MAT nominations for this show in the 2017/8 season. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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